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Opera as Critical "Synthesis": Theorizing the Interface between Cosmopolitanism and Orientalism

O'Connor, Aeron; (2023) Opera as Critical "Synthesis": Theorizing the Interface between Cosmopolitanism and Orientalism. Comparative Studies in Society and History 10.1017/S0010417523000117. (In press). Green open access

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For centuries, European operas have portrayed dramatic, exotic Others on stage. However, as opera is increasingly adopted around the world, including by those “Eastern” Others it orientalized, its Othering tendencies serve new, more critical purposes. Post-colonial studies of knowledge and cultural production have shown how relations between centers and peripheries, knowledge and power are integral to forms of orientalism. In Tajikistan, the accounts of opera told today by the daughter of a successful Soviet Tajik composer bring to light the ambiguity of power relations and positionalities in Soviet opera’s production. Her accounts, beyond highlighting opera’s readily apparent orientalist tendencies, reveal surprising cosmopolitan aspirations in Soviet Central Asian opera. Cosmopolitan histories and values also feature heavily in post-colonial politics of knowledge production, but the concept appears worlds apart from, even in opposition to that of orientalism: the latter feeds off center-periphery, knowledge-power relations, while the former aspires to evade them. Through this present-day account of opera’s development in Soviet Tajikistan, this article challenges this opposition, theorizing a conceptual ambiguity and interdependence between orientalism and cosmopolitanism, which has important consequences for knowledge-producing fields like opera, as well as anthropology. Multiple forms of orientalism and cosmopolitanism overlapped and interacted in the development of Soviet Central Asian opera as numerous, intersecting meanings and socio-political agendas went into its production. Ultimately, a conceptual space emerges between the orientalism(s) and cosmopolitanism(s) at play. This ambiguous space in-between offers a lens for critically evaluating the complex, uneven practice of portraying and engaging with Others.

Type: Article
Title: Opera as Critical "Synthesis": Theorizing the Interface between Cosmopolitanism and Orientalism
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1017/S0010417523000117
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0010417523000117
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.
Keywords: opera, cosmopolitanism, orientalism, anthropology, Tajikistan, Persianate, Soviet, Central Asia, post-colonialism
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10168536
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